National News

Q&A: A look at questions about a Kansas waterslide death

Posted November 23

— The owner of a Kansas water park said it will remove a towering waterslide as soon as investigations into the August death of a boy on the ride have concluded. A spokeswoman for Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts said Wednesday that the company's announcement regarding the plan to demolish the 168-foot-tall Verruckt slide was motivated by uncertainty among patrons to its Kansas City, Kansas, water park and had nothing to do with any potential legal settlements.

Here are some key questions about the tragedy and its aftermath:

WHAT CAUSED THE ACCIDENT?

If that has been determined, it hasn't been disclosed to the public. Caleb Schwab, the 10-year-old son of Republican state Rep. Scott Schwab, was decapitated on the ride on Aug. 7, someone familiar with the investigation previously told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to speak publicly about the death. Police are investigating the matter because a death was involved, a spokesman has said, but he noted that such accidents typically are handled as civil cases. Attorneys for the Schwab family and two women who were in the same raft and were injured are conducting their own investigation. Police and the attorneys haven't specified how long either probe may take, though the attorneys have said a lawsuit is possible. No known lawsuits had been filed over the accident as of Wednesday. Police officials did not respond to messages seeking comment.

WHAT'S BEING SCRUTINIZED?

Although there has been no public indication that the ride's restraints played any role in Caleb's death, investigators have almost certainly inspected those safety features. Verruckt riders were harnessed in with two nylon seatbelt-like straps — one that crossed the rider's lap and the other that stretched diagonally across the shoulder. Each strap was held in place by long straps that closed with fabric fasteners, not buckles, and riders held ropes inside the raft. After Caleb's death, previous riders talked about how the shoulder straps snapped or popped off during their trips down the slide, which featured a 17-story plunge and reached speeds of up to 70 mph.

TEARING DOWN THE WATERSLIDE: WHY ANNOUNCE NOW?

The Schwab family's attorney and the water park's Texas-based parent company said separately Tuesday that the demolition of the Verruckt won't take place until all investigations into Caleb's death are finished and a court gives the go-ahead. Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Winter Prosapio said clarifying the ride's fate is "something we'd like to set to rest," adding that "when we're allowed to take it down, we will take it down. We have no interest in having it up another hour."

WHAT ARE THE LEGAL IMPLICATIONS?

In product liability or wrongful death matters, it's not uncommon for one or either side to request that the questioned product — in this case, the Verruckt — not be tampered with or destroyed until any lawsuits have been resolved. Dan Lykins, a Topeka product-liability and personal injury attorney who isn't involved in the Verruckt matter, said that in general, if both sides reach an out-of-court settlement, the case's defendant or respondent may ask a judge to sign off on it to officially be absolved of any future claims in that legal action. He said to get that court's approval, a lawsuit would have to be filed, largely as a formality, "to give the court something to look at." Kansas law also stipulates that if any of the settlement money is to be directed to anyone under the age of 18, court approval of the agreement is mandatory.

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